What Is It?

A teratoma (literally Greek for "monstrous tumor") is a type of tumor which is derived from abnormal development of embryologic cell types. In other words, cells during development continue growing in a location that they should not remain. They are considered to be congenital (present at birth) and they fall into a class called germ cell tumors.

Like other related tumors, such as Dermoid cyst, they have remnants of other tissues growing in a place they should not. They, unlike a Dermoid cyst, can have all three layers of germ cells present, giving rise to various tissues in the tumor which resemble other organs or tissues. For example, a teratoma can have skin, hair, teeth, sweat glands, lung tissue, brain tissue and other various types of tissue. While they do not generally create whole organs, any one teratoma can have several tissues in it that resemble various tissue types from elsewhere in the body.

These tumors can occur in several places in the body. While teratomas of the ovaries is more common, they can occur in the central nervous system as well.

The great majority of these tumors are benign and called "mature". However, rarely, immature, or benign variants can occur.

What Types of Symptoms Are Typical?

The symptoms associated with these tumors vary depend on its size and location. As they enlarge they can compress neurological structures, leading to neurological symptoms. These symptoms are entirely dependent on the location, but can include numbness or weakness in a part of the body, hearing or visual difficulties, as well as other nervous system deficits.

How Is The Diagnosis Typically Made?

After an in depth neurological examination, typically a CT scan or MRI scan of the brain or spine will reveal the cystic mass. While the appearance of these tumors is fairly characteristic, it can be confused for some other types of tumors. It should be distinguished from an epidermoid cyst, which is a similar cyst but which only contains epithelial tissue, and a dermoid cyst, which is similar to an epidermoid except that it can have dermal appendages such as hair and hair follicles, sweat glands, teeth, etc.

As with other tumors, to make a definitive diagnosis, tumor tissue is required to be analyzed by a pathologist.

What Are Some Common Treatments?

Treatment of these tumors depends on the specifics of each case. However, generally, for symptomatic cysts, surgical removal is often required. The goal of surgery is complete removal of the cyst and its contents but this is not always possible. If parts of the tumor are adherent to important structures of the nervous system, removing them may be dangerous in some cases. In these cases, small parts of the tumor may be left behind.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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